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What are IUDs and are they right for you?

Katherine Pennington is a diet and lifestyle coach and founder of Be in Balance (be-n-balance.com). She is a writer, lecturer, raw food chef and also runs a cooking program for kids and their moms called Kids in the Kitch. Katherine grad...

What is an IUD?

Being a working woman with two children, I have little or no time to think of birth control and I am a complete mess when it comes to remembering to take a pill in the morning, put on a patch or insert a ring. And, as much as I adore motherhood, I do not want to hear the pitter patter of little feet anytime soon!

So, when my gynecologist suggested that I begin using an IUD and told me a little more about it, I was beyond intrigued and wanted to know more! IUDs might sound complicated but they are nothing to be intimidated by and are perhaps the easiest form of birth control out there! They may not be right for everyone, but if you are looking for an alternative form of birth control, read on to learn more!

What is an IUD?

IUD stands for an Intra Uterine Device. An IUD is a small, soft, plastic t-shaped device that is inserted through the cervix and placed in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. The arms of the t-shape hold the IUD in place at the top of the uterus.

 

IUDs are now the most widely used method of reversible birth control in the world and are currently used by nearly 160 million women! While some people have not heard of IUDs and might feel that they are a new technology, they actually have been around for over a century! IUDs were first written about in a scientific journal in 1903 and then they were marketed and made available in the 1920s and 30s by Dr. Ernst Grafenberg.

How does an IUD work?

When the IUD is inserted in your uterus, the t-shape blocks off the fallopian tubes and prevents the sperm from reaching and fertilizing your egg. The actual placement of the IUD in the uterus also makes it go into crisis mode, which weakens the walls of the uterus in some cases not making habitable for an implantation.

 

There are two kinds of IUDs, the levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system (or hormonal IUD) and the copper IUD.

What are the benefits to using an IUD?

IUDs are perfect with for those who have busy lives and who do not want to have to think about taking a pill, using a patch or inserting a ring everyday! They are also ideal for those who want a reliable, long-term birth control option with the ability to reverse it at will!

 

Not only are IUDs easy to have inserted but they are also effective immediately upon implant, are easily reversible, are not noticeable during intercourse and require little or no daily attention. All important points for us multi-tasking women! To top it off, they are 99.2-99.9% effective, which is more effective than the pill, vaginal rings, condoms, diaphragms, skin patches and, believe it or not, even sterilization! And, they can last up from up to 5-10 years!

What is the difference between hormonal and copper IUDs and which one is right for me?

The levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system, or hormonal IUD, slowly releases small amounts of hormones directly into your uterus. No birth control is 100% effective, but hormonal IUDs tackle the birth control problem from several different angles greatly increasing the effectiveness! Hormonal IUDs last for approximately 5 years.

 

In addition to blocking the sperm, hormonal IUDs thicken cervical mucus further preventing sperm from entering the uterus, thin the lining of the uterus making it harder for an egg to implant in the uterus and, in some cases, may even help stop some women from ovulating!

 

For those who do not respond well with hormones, there can be a risk of slight weight gain, headaches, increased blood pressure, acne, depression, breast tenderness, cysts and decrease in sex drive. Hormonal IUDs are not recommended for women who have a history of cancer. Women who have diabetes should also be carefully monitored.

 

Copper IUDs look very similar to hormonal ones and have the same t-shaped, plastic device but the device has a copper wire wrapped around it. The copper acts as a spermicide and can be used for emergency contraception 5 days after unprotected sex.

 

Copper IUDs can cause longer, heavier and more painful menstrual periods, which can lead to anemia. They also are not recommended for women with Wilson's disease or allergies to copper.

 

If you do not have adverse reactions to hormones, the hormonal IUD seems to be a more effective choice as it not only tackles birth control with a multipronged approach to preventing pregnancies but more than likely you will not have all the nasty side effects with heavy, painful bleeding!

 

I personally have a history of heavy bleeding and have a busy schedule working while taking care of two children, so the copper IUD would definitely be out for me!

What are the disadvantages of IUDS?

IUDs do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, require a clinic visit for insertion and removal, and can be expelled.

 

IUDs are not recommended for women who have frequent and multiple partners due to the increased risk of vaginal infections. There is an increased risk for pelvic inflammation disease but studies show this only occurs in 1% of the users.

 

In all IUDs, there is a very small risk to future fertility in the case that the IUD perforates or becomes embedded in the uterus or if a pelvic infection occurs. If there is severe damage, a hysterectomy may be required.

 

If you do get pregnant, an IUD has to be taken out immediately.

Who can't use an IUD?

IUDs are not for everybody. If you have any of the following, it is recommended that you do not use an IUD and speak at length with your doctor before going this birth control route: possible pregnancy, vaginal bleeding, recent or repeated pelvic infections, past ectopic pregnancy, Toxic Shock Syndrome, lesions in the genital tract, cervicitis or salpingitis, HIV/AIDS, a compromised immune system, an abnormal pap smear, a history of heart disease, anemia or have had previous problems with an IUD.

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